I feel compelled to do this as a part rant, part did-this-all-really-happen-to-me kind of thing. The general consensus among my family, though, seems to be that 2002 is a year we would all just as soon forget and the sooner we can close the book on that year and burn it, the better.

Let's see what I can recollect. Feel free to join in whenever you think you know the tune.

JANUARY: Warmer than usual. The only other web developer at the medium-sized business where I work is fired for misrepresenting company work as his own, leaving me the sole web anything in the company. Finances being what they are, I don't expect them to replace my coworker anytime soon, and I'm not disappointed.

FEBRUARY: My wife and I complete our certification to be foster parents. Our intention, which DCFS knows, is to take on a "legal risk" child who will probably, but not certainly, be up for adoption after a year in the system. This follows our inability to conceive in vitro twice in the previous year, both times submitting my wife (and through her, the whole family) to rather severe emotional chaos.

My small company informs all the employees that everyone who isn't laid off this month will take a 10% cut in pay or a 10% cut in hours. I'm not laid off, but I'm sure it was seriously considered.

My wife turns thirty. I'm still twenty-six. Fortunately, she appears to take this in stride.

MARCH: Pulled through.

APRIL: We find a stray cat in our back yard and decide to feed it every day in hopes it'll get better. It's a white Persian, badly de-furred and undernourished when it comes by, although it still hisses when it feels threatened. A little more observation confirms it's probably a she, and deaf as a post as well. My stepdaughter names her Kelly; I name her Percy.

MAY: DCFS calls us on Mother's Day and asks if we want to take in a five-month-old preemie boy. We agree immediately, and after visiting him in the hospital, where he was being treated for medicinal and general neglect, are able to take him home with us two days later. My wife spares no amount of attention on him, and he's not lacking it from the rest of us either, and he's brought back to full health in surprisingly little time.

His bio-parents are another puzzle entirely. His birth mother doesn't really want him, by all appearances, but she does seem to want her other two children who weren't premature and apparently were always in fair health. So DCFS (and our family) have to watch her and the baby's father, her boyfriend, miss their times in the courtroom and make at best half-hearted attempts to make it to Carl's visitations and doctor's appointments. This becomes ongoing.

JUNE: Our second foster child is a teen mom-to-be, sixteen years old with a history of running away. We're assured that she isn't likely to run away from a home where she feels safe, and this turns out to be true. For the most part she's happy to be here, especially since my wife was a teen mom herself with lots of helpful advice to give. Their relationship becomes more friendly than parent-child; this eventually proves to be not so good a thing as it sounds.

JULY: My stepdaughter has a Very Bad Weekend at her bio-father's. (Several weeks ago she started calling me "Dad" and him by his first name, instead of the other way around, which threw me off for a couple of days.) When we pick her up she tells us about her attempted suicide by taking several of her brother's pills and, when that failed, stabbing herself with a pair of sharp scissors. Continued inquiries by my wife reveal that the pills were apparently to aid digestion and the scissors were really just poked into the back of her hand, so her "suicide attempt" didn't really have much chance of success.

It did, however, earn her a visit to the local hospital's psychiatric wing, following the written recommendation of a few adult leaders from back here. That wasn't as much fun as she'd hoped, but eventually it got her what she wanted: a legal reason not to visit her birth father's home every other weekend any longer, until such time as she "felt safe" there. Considerable savings of stress, time and gasoline for all, but he does have one card still up his sleeve. She wants to visit her half-siblings in a neutral location from time to time, and he refuses unless it's at his house. This micro-Cold War has yet to resolve itself.

She still visits a counselor to talk things through periodically. My wife gave up her just-recently-begun sessions with that counselor for her daughter, and she has yet to try and resume them. This is almost certainly a mistake.

Our foster daughter's baby is born at the end of the month, nearly three weeks overdue but in excellent health. Her first names are NaKhiya Shamontea Imani; not one of those names mean a blessed thing.

AUGUST: My brother finally gets married; I'm one of four groomsmen. The reception's actually pretty good, although I'm bummed by the fact that my wife was unable to attend with me due to illness. Eventually I decide to dance with an aunt and a few friends of the bride, but it's just not the same.

SEPTEMBER: Our foster daughter's visit to her friends and family ninety miles from our house turns into a disappearing act, costing all of the rest of us several hours of searching and inquiring as to where she might be in town. This is her third disappearance, and by far her longest and most evasive. We finally find her at another friend's house, and she comes back with us without a fuss, but my wife and I stew about it for a good long while anyways. She's denied any more visits indefinitely, although we eventually let her go back for a three-day Christmas visit, which she doesn't disappear on, thankfully.

OCTOBER: Pulled through.

NOVEMBER: My (35-year-old) sister finds out her live-in boyfriend/fiance has been cheating on her with a 23-year-old blonde. Not that they've been getting along all that well of late anyhow, but the fact that they recently bought a house and a golden retriever puppy together rather adds to the blow. She moves back into our mom's house and eventually gets her dog back, though not the house. I find out about this some weeks later; news about this sister has a way of taking the long way around before it reaches me.

Meanwhile, our immediate family collectively agrees that my dad, whose Alzheimer's disease has progressed nearly beyond my mom's ability to cope with him, moves into a managed care facility specifically for seniors with dementia. It's small and fairly house-like instead of nursing-home-like, with only twelve residents per building, and we all agree it's the best and safest place for him.

Winter arrives early. Percy moves into the house and becomes Kelly. Unsurprisingly, she and our existing two-year-old cat Sadie do not get along like a house afire, and Kelly is mainly confined to the basement.

DECEMBER: I get fired. They blame me for not working hard enough, I blame them for expecting me to manage myself. We're both right, in all honesty. I spend a few days being bitter and pissy about it and am eventually guided into substitute teaching for the local school districts. It's yet to be determined what kind of long-term career plans I am to have. I want to be back in computers, but at least one relative thinks I could/should spend some time getting a teaching certificate and pursuing that until I can get training in a more expansive computing field than web development.

Net gains: One cat, one teenager, two babies, two weekends with my stepdaughter per month. Net losses: one job, several thousand dollars and much of my sanity. I'm ready for 2003 now, thank you....